Today’s blog will probably get me branded as a heretic, or worse. You see, I think that the biggest source of waste (of time and money) in the industry is the proliferation of health and safety paperwork. I also think that the touch screen test is next to useless and the CSCS system doesn’t work. So am I a heretic or am I just repeating what most specialist contractors think but are too frightened to say?

I tell my staff at toolbox talks that health and safety is not a piece of paper or a card but a frame of mind. I put it first and show it, I expect them to put it first and they show it. They know that if they are not happy with site conditions, working methods, risk assessment and management, then I am not happy – and that I always support them. I am not complacent and I ensure that our training plan is heavily weighted on H&S.

So why the heresy? Let me explain my views.

Starting with the touch screen test – does anyone out there really believe that it proves health and safety competence? I sure as hell don’t. It shows that the candidate has some commonsense, can read a book, retain some facts and do basic computer operations. None of this makes them safer on site.

While some of the information is useful, it does not replace proper health and safety training and on-site observation. In my sector, a pass in the H&S test has always been essential in all NVQ qualifications. The CAA is now changing this, and not before time. Let’s have real evidence of H&S training, assessment and competence on site not a computer screen in a classroom.

The uptake and implementation of CSCS has improved but needs to be more rigorously applied. It is still used more as proof of passing the next-to-useless touch screen test than as proof of competence. There are still far too many examples of workers doing skilled work with green general operative cards.

I was proud last year to have the first three heritage skills qualifications issued to my staff, and they have CSCS cards with the endorsement “NVQ3 Heritage Crafts – Plastering Route”. This means that when they go on site they can recognise what they are aiming to preserve and not just destroy it. I am pleased to say that they are currently working on the prestigious refurbishment of the public areas of the Savoy. It will now be down to heritage clients to insist on employing only fully competent craftsmen. If a worker is carrying out a skilled task, we must make sure he has the card for the job.

Then we get to safety method statements. In our company they mean something! We visit site before we write them and we assess the risks. Our staff read them. I have yet to receive, as a matter of course, on any site copies of the risk assessments and COSHH for trades that I work with. If we think there may be an interaction, we have to ask.

We may be a finishing trade but that does not stop my craftsmen being subjected to risk from other subcontractors’ working practices. When I was a junior manager on site I regularly had to attend all the subcontractor H&S meetings. This still happens on some sites, like our Kier Wallis site at the Great North Hotel, but too often they seem to have been replaced by bits of paper.

So please, let’s stop hiding behind mounds of paper and telling ourselves how much better we are now with the CONDAM Regs, H&S test and the CSCS card scheme. We should be insisting on using only fully qualified and competent tradesmen to carry out skilled tasks. They should have to provide evidence of CPD including health and safety training and have their competence assessed regularly. And please let’s start talking to each other again!